Many voters remain confused about the four proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot in Tennessee on Election Day, Tuesday, November 4.
Three of the amendments were discussed during a League of Women Voters forum in Oak Ridge in October, and you can find a guide to the four amendments here.
The first amendment, Amendment 1, is related to abortion, and it appears to be the most divisive.
Here’s the full text of the proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitution:
“Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.”
Supporters say it would restore the Constitution to where it was before a Tennessee Supreme Court decision in 2000.
“Because of a radical 4-1 ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2000, Tennessee now boasts a broader right to abortion than that recognized by Roe v. Wade or the U.S. Constitution,” amendment supporters say on the Why Yes on 1 website. “Basic common sense protections passed by the Tennessee General Assembly to protect the health and safety of women and girls considering abortion were struck down as violating this newly discovered ‘right to abortion’ within the Tennessee Constitution.
“As a result of the pro-abortion ruling in Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee v. Sundquist, Tennesseans can no longer enforce common sense protections for abortion-vulnerable women or unborn children.”
Supporters say Amendment 1 would make the constitution neutral on the questions of abortion and taxpayer funding of abortions, and it would allow the people of Tennessee to again regulate abortion through their elected representatives. Abortion would not be banned; it remains legal across the United States under the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade.
But those urging a “no” vote on the amendment say the proposed change is dangerous because all decision-making power would be handed over to the government. The amendment would allow government interference in personal, private medical decisions and open the door for thousands of other laws, opponents say.
“A woman needs the ability to make these decisions in consultation with her faith, her family and her doctors,” the opponents say. “Amendment 1 would insert the government into our most private moments, and could even ban abortion without exceptions for rape, incest, or health of the woman. You don’t have to be pro-choice to agree that Amendment 1 goes too far.”
The opponents say abortion is already highly regulated in Tennessee, from mandatory reporting to the Tennessee Health Department to parental consent for minors. And they say the procedure is also “incredibly safe.”
“All Amendment 1 would do is allow government to potentially ban abortions in all instances with no exceptions—and that is what’s really dangerous for Tennessee women,” opponents say.
During the forum in October, Corinne Rovetti, co-director and family nurse practitioner for the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, said Amendment 1 undermines liberty by upholding one religious view.
“This amendment takes religious liberty away from people and puts it in the hands of politicians,” she said.
She said the amendment would give legislators unlimited power to pass any restrictions they want, including those that apply to rape victims.
Clinics are closing all over the South because of new extreme regulations, and in 2013, more than half of women of reproductive age (15-44) were living in states hostile to abortion, Rovetti said.
She said there are seven clinics remaining in Tennessee, and two closed in 2012 because of new hospital admitting privilege requirements.
If Tennessee follows other states, she said, abortion won’t be illegal, but it will be almost impossible to obtain services.
“If women lose the ability to control their fertility, they lose the ability to control their destiny,” Rovetti said.
But supporters of Amendment 1, who wore Yes on 1 T-shirts to the League of Women Voters forum, were critical of Rovetti’s presentation.
“Why didn’t we have an opportunity to express our beliefs?” asked audience member Vilma DeClue.
“To me, this is just a one-sided political circus,” said audience member John DeClue.
Amendment 2 proposes a change in the selection of appellate judges, and Amendment 3 would prohibit any tax on payroll or earned income.
A fourth proposed constitutional amendment, Amendment 4, would permit veterans’ organizations to hold fundraising lotteries like other nonprofit organizations.
See this guide for more information on the amendments.
Also on Tuesday’s ballot, voters in Oak Ridge, Clinton, and Norris will vote in referendums on whether to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores (retail food stores) starting in July 2016. Kroger and Food City have both been proponents of the change.
Also in Norris, voters will vote on a liquor-by-the-drink referendum.
Melissa Eads, Kroger spokesperson, said the move to allow wine in grocery stores is the product of seven years of legislative work. More than 30 states already allow those sales, she said, and Kroger and Food City worked to collect signatures to put the referendum on the ballot this November, after the proposal was approved by the Tennessee General Assembly in Nashville.
“It was all about compromise,” she said. As part of that deal, liquor stores were able to start selling mixers, ice, beer, and corkscrews—things that they couldn’t sell before—on July 1.
Eads said about 70 percent of Tennesseans are in favor of being able to purchase wine at a grocery store.
In Oak Ridge, critics of one school board candidate have raised questions about her five-year-old arrest on a felony reckless endangerment charge while driving intoxicated with a 10-year-old daughter in her car in Blount County in September 2009.
In May 2010, Paine pleased guilty to the lesser DUI charge. She served 40 days in jail, completed a Newport rehab facility program, and served the balance of her sentence on supervised probation.
Those who have raised questions about Paine’s record suggest it’s at odds with her campaign emphasis on safety. Paine led the effort this summer to successfully roll back an expansion of the area where bus service is not provided.
Paine has acknowledged that she made a mistake.
“After dealing with what no parent should have to deal with, the death of my daughter, Ashley (in a school bus-related fatality in Oak Ridge in 2007), I had a difficult time coping with my overwhelming grief and pain,” Paine said on her campaign website. “During that time, I made choices that I am not proud of. In 2009, I was convicted of a DUI.
“I do not excuse nor condone my behavior. I repaid my debt to society, served my time to the community, and sought and received forgiveness from my Lord, my family, friends, and myself.”
Supporters seem to have forgiven her. In recent letters to the editor, they’ve also acknowledged that Paine has made mistakes.
”But who hasn’t?” asked one supporter, Oak Ridge resident Amy Rothfeldt. “Often times we learn more by making mistakes. I believe that Laurie’s past has made her even more determined and focused to create a better and safer future for our kids.”
Paine has also acknowledged a 2004 bankruptcy. She said she and her husband then owned two problematic properties: They lived in a house that had toxic mold and had a roof cave in on a rental property. In both cases, they were left with an inability to recoup any of their investment and were forced to declare bankruptcy, Paine said.
“Through the difficulties I faced, I learned many lessons and it has made me a better person today,” she said. “On the windshield of my car, I have the following words ‘Christ is Enough for Me.’ This is my daily reminder that with God I can overcome anything, and I have.”